English School 1617 (1617)
Cuffs of very fine linen made of cutwork and needle lace set off the pale skin of her elegant hands. The subject’s femininity is emphasised by the lily she delicately holds in her left hand, symbolic of purity, a theme which is echoed in the floral motif decorating her close-fitting white sleeves worn beneath the hanging sleeves...
Although the identity of the subject in this striking Jacobean portrait is at present unknown, the fine clothing confirms she was a woman of considerable means...
Shown standing, the sitter wears a red gown with hanging sleeves, the edges of which are embellished with silver lace to match the tabs at the shoulder and seams of the bodice. As well as playing a supportive role (the lace would stiffen the edges), the silver detailing was also intended to impress and would glimmer as it caught the light when the subject walked.
The long skirt of the gown is folded back on itself to form a flounce, which has been pinned into place over the drum-shaped French farthingale. This item of clothing distended women’s hips and was formed by whalebone hoops, expensive to produce, and difficult to wear.James I & VI (1566-1625) tried to ban this unwieldy garment when two ladies got stuck in the doors of the banqueting house in 1616. Although the centre of the skirt is split open, a row of delicate button loops in silver thread reveal that the gown could be fastened. By leaving it open, however, the subject allows us to catch a glimpse of the extravagantly decorated petticoat.
Cuffs of very fine linen made of cutwork and needle lace set off the pale skin of her elegant hands. The subject’s femininity is emphasised by the lily she delicately holds in her left hand, symbolic of purity, a theme which is echoed in the floral motif decorating her close-fitting white sleeves worn beneath the hanging sleeves.
Tucked under her left arm is an ostrich feather fan in her right hand she holds a pair of gauntlet gloves embroidered with floral and emblematic designs. The tabs of the gloves are decorated with sequins (also called ‘oes’) which would sparkle and catch the light as the wearer toyed with them.There is a hair ornament pinned to the back of her head to frame her face which would also tremble and sparkle as she walked. An elaborate pierced gold ornament is worn in the hair set with rubies, diamonds and pearls. It hangs from a delicate red thread fastened to the hair with a gold pin.
The most expensive aspect of her outfit would have been the standing collar which is made of fine reticella (snowflake-shaped) needle lace, trimmed with ‘punto in aria’ (stitches in the air). The lace rests on a pasteboard ‘pickadil’ collar, a face-framing device worn by both men and women at this date to set off the complexion – which is further enhanced by the twist of black silk twist hangs from hair.
It was not customary for portrait painters (or ‘picturemakers’) to sign their work at this date (in fact, portraitists rarely signed their work before about 1830), and as a result the identities of most portrait painters working in the Tudor and Jacobean periods have been lost. The name of artist of this work, painted in 1617, is likewise unknown, however, they were clearly talented and very aware of the latest fashion for court portraiture exemplified in London by the likes of Robert Peake the Elder (c.1551-1619) and William Larkin (c.1580-1619).